Q & A: August 2020

Q & A: August 2020

My Ex-Spouse Died.  Would I Qualify For Widow’s Benefits Even Though I’m Re-married?

Q:  I’ve been out of work since late March.  The company that I was working for is in the process of declaring bankruptcy, and I haven’t found a new job yet.  I turn 64 in two months, but if I start Social Security now my retirement benefit would be pretty low. 

I recently learned that my ex-spouse passed away due to the coronavirus.  He was older than I am, and had already started Social Security.  He was getting about $1,875 before we divorced.  I’m remarried now, but my husband hasn’t started benefits.  He’s only working part time.  Would I possibly qualify for Social Security widower’s benefits based on my ex-husband’s Social Security?

A:  You may possibly qualify for a divorced spouse Social Security survivor’s benefit that would be the same as what a widow would get, but you have a number of options that you need to carefully think through.  If you receive survivors benefits as a divorced spouse now, you can switch to your own retirement benefit later if it is higher than your widow’s benefit.

Your own retirement benefit would be low if you were to take it at age 64 — prior to reaching your full retirement age.  Full retirement age at which you start receiving full, unreduced benefits, is rising.  For people born in 1956 (like you) your full retirement age is 66 and 4 months.

If you were to start your own retirement benefit now, your benefit would be permanently reduced, and you would be giving up potentially tens of thousands of dollars in long-term Social Security income.  If you delay starting Social Security as your husband is doing, you receive 100% of your own benefit at your full retirement age.  The Social Security Administration has a retirement age calculator to help.

To qualify for a divorced spouse survivor’s benefit, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years, and you did not remarry until you were past the age of 60.  After age 60, your remarriage does not affect eligibility for ex-spouse survivor’s benefits.  Any benefit that you receive would not affect the benefit for other survivors who are receiving benefits based on the record of your ex-spouse.

However, waiting until your full retirement age qualifies you to receive 100% of the amount your ex-spouse received when he died. The amount you receive is based on your ex-spouse’s basic benefit and depends on the age at which you file a claim.  If you file for a survivor’s benefit prior to your full retirement age, the amount of the survivors benefit you receive would be reduced (roughly 15% in your case), but your own retirement benefit would be delayed and continue to grow to its maximum until you reach age 70.  You could switch if it is higher than your survivors benefits.

You will need to contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment.  Social Security has a local office locator that you can find here.  In the meantime learn more about Social Security survivors benefits on the Social Security website at www.SSA.gov.